Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Musical Monday: In Dreams

Something frequently listed on Absolute Write as a moment that ‘makes you want to throw the book against the wall’ is the dream sequence. You know, where Our Hero has a dream of such clarity and significance that he wakes up with a perfect understanding of his problem. “Rubbish!” says the reader – or, at least, so says the reader who is also a writer. We know better. We know that dreams are slippery things, confused images that disintegrate on waking like smoke rings in a stiff breeze. Still, there’s an allure to the dream sequence, isn’t there? It’s tempting to slip one in. I’ll do it better. Dream on.
I have a hard time listening to this song without thinking of David Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet. The song was a favorite of the film’s villain, Frank Booth (masterfully played by Dennis Hopper). Much of that film was like a bad dream: upsetting and disturbing, with weird stuff happening at the edges. But the song, divorced of the movie’s images and violence, is beautiful, and Orbison’s voice is ethereal and haunting. Kind of like a dream. Enjoy.

8 Responses

  1. Dream sequences are usually a bad idea, because they're usually handled quite poorly, but I've got an example from film of one that worked. In Waking Ned Devine, the main character has a dream early on in the film which gives him the idea that carries him through the adventures of the rest of the movie. Rather than an unrealistic problem-solving moment, the dream is the problem starter, the idea maker. I think that's a more realistic use of dream. I know I've had more than a few ideas myself that have come to me while dreaming.

  2. I love dream sequences but every time I ever used one my critique partners were like no way, can't do that, it's a passive way of storytelling and frowned upon. However, in my new WIP there is one 2 paragraph dream sequence that I don't think the book can go without. So we'll see what people say. It's not one of those things though where the MC wakes up with a new lease on life. It's just a disturbing dream. But it becomes important later on. Anyway, I know everyone is all DOWN WITH THE DREAM SEQUENCE but they've never bothered me!

  3. I can deal with a dream, so long as it's not an entire chapter. Know what I mean? I'll admit I used to have one in my current MS, but I deleted it prior to going before the firing squad. Er, I mean my critique partners. *grins* Great post!

  4. Fabulous post. Dreams are so tricky yet fascinating. As you wrote, they are "slippery things, confused images that disintegrate on waking like smoke rings" (beautiful image, btw). It seems to me that dreams can be used as long as the writer does not lean on them like a crutch or use them as an easy way out of a plotting situation. Bookechoes.com made a great point–the dream might be a spark, as is often true in real life, but not a problem solving device.

  5. And yet I've received a lot of inspiration from my dreams. They don't necessarily give me my answers but they've inspired some books. =D

  6. I think a dream sequence can work if it gives you a little insight into a character, especially if that character is not too self-aware. But, I wouldn't like it as a plot device à la "The dream told me how to solve the problem/riddle/situation."

    I had a dream sequence in my current novel. It was a foreshadowing-kind-of dream. But, I was afraid of pulling it off and cut it.

  7. Thanks for the comments, all.

    You know, in thinking about this some more, I wonder if the dream thing is one of those things that 'writers' hate more than readers. I am aware that I wear my writer's hat more and more when I read; I'm far more critical than I used to be. But the dream thing may be one of those things that bothers writers a lot more than readers.

    I didn't mean to discourage anyone from using dreams in their books; if it works, it works. Re-reading this post, I realize that's exactly what I did! Sorry!

    'Waking Ned Devine' was a great movie. I'll have to watch that one again, it's been a long time.

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